In a video posted Wednesday on Twitter for World Press Freedom Day, former President Barack Obama lectured about “widespread disinformation” and the need for journalists to create “an information environment” to support democracy.
In sharing the video on Twitter, the Obama Foundation wrote, “This World Press Freedom Day, take a look at @BarackObama’s remarks at the @ColumbiaJourn Faultlines: Democracy conference, and why the free press is vital for democracy to survive and thrive.”
Obama’s personal account retweeted the Foundation, saying, “Journalists have always been on the front lines of the struggle for democracy. That’s why we need to keep standing up for the rights of journalists around the world. Grateful that we have @ColumbiaJourn and people like Jelani Cobb taking on this important work.”
“Journalists have always been on the frontlines of struggles for democracy, and some of you have the scars to prove it. And that’s why it’s so important to find creative ways to reinvigorate quality journalism. It’s why we need to keep standing up for the rights of journalists around the world, many of whom are facing increasing threats and challenges just trying to do their jobs,” Obama said in the video.
The former president continued, “I plan to keep shining a light on the biggest challenges that democracy faces, that includes revitalizing our political institutions, coming up with more inclusive and sustainable models of capitalism, creating a stronger democratic culture. But it also means creating an information environment that reinforces rather than erodes our democracy, one in which truth matters, one in which we are able to distinguish between fact and opinion.”
“I talk a lot about how democracy is neither inevitable nor self-executing. Citizens like us have to nurture it. We have to tend to it and fight for it. As our circumstances change, we have to be willing to look at ourselves critically and make reforms that can allow democracy not just to survive but to thrive. That’s especially important right now,” Obama said.
He added, “Our democracy has always faced its share of challenges, but increasingly it feels like we’re at an inflection point. Rising inequality, deepening polarization and widespread disinformation. At the same time, we’re also trying to adapt to advancements in technology like AI that can profoundly change our world. If we want to preserve our democratic ideals, we need to face these trends head on, and we need all of you to help us do it.”
Ironically, his administration was criticized for an “unprecedented” number of prosecutions of government sources as well as seizures of journalists’ records.
“In the Obama administration’s Washington, government officials are increasingly afraid to talk to the press,” former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. wrote in a 2015 report on U.S. press freedoms under the Obama administration. “The administration’s war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration, when I was one of the editors involved in The Washington Post’s investigation of Watergate.”